The Elephant Girl by James Patterson and Ellen Banda-Aaku

In 2022, The Elephant Girl was nominated for The Best Middle School and Children’s Book of the Year by Goodreads. Inspired by true events, best-selling author, James Patterson, and award-winning author, Ellen Banda-Aaku, who has lived, studied, and worked in Ghana, Zambia, and South Africa give us this real-life tragedy of endangered species and the fate of those who try to protect them.

12-year-old Jama lives with her “Momma” and her deceased father’s great-aunt in a Maasai community in Kenya. She tells us her story. Outside her community, which is made up of round huts made of sticks, grass, and mud, is a watering hole used by lions, elephants, and other wild animals. Here, Jama is overjoyed to see a baby elephant born and names it Mbegu. She becomes friends with Mbegu and its mother. Because she prefers elephants to people, she is called The Elephant Girl and finds refuge from teasing at the watering hole.

Jama is concerned about the environment and especially about elephants who are being killed at a rate of approximately 55 a day by poachers, who sell the elephants’ tusks. She knows who the poachers are as she has seen one of them with his gun. She has also overheard conversations. This puts her in peril. What does the violent father of a new boy at school, Leku, have to do with the poaching? Is Leku Jama’s friend?

One day when Jama is with Momma, Mbgue, and its mother, the elephants are frightened by poachers and they stampede. One person is killed and one elephant is shot. The community blames Jama and Mbgue and severe consequences follow for both. Will anybody stand up for Jama? What will become of her and Mbegu?

To find out, read this fast-paced, heartbreaking, and heartwarming story with short chapters. You may find yourself holding your breath several times. On a rating scale of 1 to 5 stars, I would easily give The Elephant Girl 5 stars.

Written for Middle School and Young Adult readers, many adults may also find it a most worthwhile read.


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